Home > Anime, Check-out Station > Check-out Station: DonKangolJones’ End of Summer Movie Special (Paprika & Summer Wars)

Check-out Station: DonKangolJones’ End of Summer Movie Special (Paprika & Summer Wars)

I don’t watch anime movies very often.  It comes down to strange combination of having an already short attention span, it being almost impossible for me not to get interrupted (at home or work) for two hours and/or the  realization that often, minus a few Miyazaki films the movies tend to be bad (Naruto) or depressing (End of EVA).  I prefer my short bits of  anime goodness.  But for some reason the past weekend became a perfect storm for me to pick up two movies I’ve been waffling on for a good while now.  With Satoshi Kon’s unfortunate death, I told myself that I would finally sit down & give one of his movies a proper watch, and once I finished with that, and the near end of summer, I decided to check out the incredibly hyped Summer Wars.  I wondered if I was about to validate my summer of anime watching, or ruin it.  I mean I could’ve always just watched Iron Man 2 or Inception again, right?

I had gotten the vibe from various sources that Paprika wasn’t the best choice to start my journey through Satoshi Kon’s material.  I heard it was especially weird, even for his material.  And the common consensus was that it was not one of his best works.  But I had also read that the movie was based on a novel that was influential to him.  So with that I chose to make this the movie of choice.

From early on in the movie,  I got the feeling that I was going to enjoy Paprika.  From the very beginning it got the vibe of a dream very right.  It felt fun, creative, weird and free.  Paprika herself gave off the vibe of a ghost or fairy playing in her own world.  And some clear but clever hints are given at the very beginning.  Of course, you can have dreams without the possibility of  nightmares.  And from early in the movie I was smacked in the face of something very real and dangerous.

I enjoyed how the movie played with consciousness and the question of whether you were awake or dreaming.  It played with duality on several levels besides that.  Most noticeably in its characters.  Chiba Atsuko is the most stark example.  Her normal persona could not be anymore professional and serious.  It’s hard to remember her smiling in the movie.  Her alter ego, titular Paprika is as I said before, a ghost or fairy who whimsically  explores and masters the various dreams she enters.  Sort of like a reverse-Batman.  Instead the public persona being a whimsical playboy, its a serious scientist.  Instead of the alter ego dealing with stark reality, it delves into the imaginative impossibility of dreams.

Another excellent example of this duality is the detective by the name of Toshimi Konakawa.  His duality is not as extreme, but is easy to relate to because it’s normal and deals with the dreams of youth and the pressures of being an adult.  He’s also  a template for the more natural dreams that occur in the movie, as opposed to the more relatively twisted one instigated by the DC Mini’s manipulation.  The recurring dreams and nightmares, the focus on cinema and his own personal stress and guilt come together beautifully towards the end.  Though his satisfaction seems a little childish and ridiculous, it also makes perfect sense and gives the movie a chance to be “meta” and focus in on itself a bit.

Other aspects of the movie could be picked apart for days.  What the dreams each mean in detail, what the movie says about obsession, being an otaku, people’s views of love and professional goals.  But the characters individually stick out to me as the highlight of the movie.  The plot itself can be a chore to piece together with all the dreams intruding on reality  and forcing you to focus on imagery and symbolism.  But in the end you see characters forced to focus inwards on themselves.  And that always makes for compelling viewing.

While Paprika focused on a story, about characters forced to focus inwards.  Summer Wars struck a very different but just as entertaining tone.  Summer Wars is all about family.  It’s all about community.  It’s all about what ties us together.  Humans as a network so to speak.

The movie starts off simply enough.  Summer vacation, a summer job.  And a girl with a simple question.  “Does anyone want a part-time job?”  It will make you think twice about what you do with your opportunities.  And honestly, I don’t want to know what would’ve happened if the main character had said no.

The cast of this movie is huge, but in the end the focus is on Kenji.  The shy, socially awkward high schooler who is more than a bit mathematically inclined.  In taking up his secret crush, Natsuki’s offer to accompany her to a family gathering he ends up being an intergral part of world events.  You could never gather this from first impressions throughout the first quarter of the movie.  The family seems like a big loving family, but nothing particularly spectacular or  special.  The characters are strangely easy to relate to eventhough I’m not asian and not too familiar with that familial culture at all.  The women of this family all seem fierce and strong.  The men generally seem stoic and dedicated and Kenji seems… like a blade of grass among trees.  Kenji himself seems too meek to even be the protagonist of a harem series.  But somehow that all changes, or should I say that somehow everyone rises to the occasion.

The world in Summer Wars seems to be compartmentalized a bit.  Much of the movie takes place from the home of the family, much of the rest takes place in the fictional online world of OZ, and there are some scenes of goings on in other various locations.  But the connection is made clear.  That family and OZ are undeniably connected and what affects one location affects the other in amazing ways.

Debatably, the second most important person in this story is Natsuki’s great-grandmother, Sakae Jinnouichi.  This sweet old lady who’s about to hit her next birthday is much more than she appears.  I enjoyed all her appearances because they really did feel authentic.  Anyone who has been blessed to have a large family and have that one really old relative  that holds the family together can feel the weight she holds.  Over here in the states some of us might call her Big Mama or something to that effect.  Someone of that age has a grounded view of life that is undeniable to anyone around her.  I only wish I was able to get that type of interaction with my great-grandmother when she was alive.

The presentation for this show was also very appealing.  The animation itself was decent, the computer animation seemed to outshine it though quite clearly.  But that didn’t hurt the immersion though as everything moved rather fluidly. The music, while generally understated, was quality.  My favorite scenes were the one where the family gathered around the dinner table and the camera would be focused on them from outside the house.  It gave the scenes the feel of a stage play.  I found it very appropriate for the situations.

If I had any gripes, it may be that everything felt a bit too convenient, the way the family’s problems were all gathered into that household with the very people who were able to fix them.  Plus as an avid lover of technology, you could see the plot coming a mile away when they stated quite clearly that the world ran through OZ and that everyone believed they had the top security in the world.  People nowadays don’t trust Facebook with their most basic of privacy concerns.  It just felt incredibly stupid that public officials would allow such valuable protocol to run through one system exclusively.  And I couldn’t help but feel a bit silly as everyone whipped out their cell phones and Nintendo DS handhelds to fight for their lives.  Then again, that may be my future, who knows?  All this stuff was minor and didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the movie much.

In the end, the movie’s pseudo-finale and finale were some outstanding scenes and some of the best anime moments I’ve experienced.  The characters, while not outstanding were all fun, believable and represented good people.  There’s a message throughout this movie of the dangers of putting all your eggs in one basket, of pride and of the dangers of relying on technology.  But at its core this is really just a movie about family, for family.  I found it to quite possibly the ultimate family movie and something that you should spend time not only watching with anime veterans, but anyone anywhere that can appreciate good material.  I’m incredibly proud to count myself as a member of this fan-base.  Good your family a hug and see this movie.  I’m all done now.  “Koi Koi!”

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